Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Time to Get Your Instrument Ready For Summer Fun Is Now!

Off to Music Camp?

 Playing Outside: Tips to Summer-ize Your Stringed Instrument

By Diane Houser, Office Manager at Fein Violins, professional violinist & violist 

and Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins

Summer is right around the corner in the Upper Midwest, and if you have plans to play outside over the next few months, now's the time to get your instrument ready for the heat and humidity.

Playing outdoors is fun! Treat your instrument well! 

Stringed instruments are made of wood, a material that expands when it absorbs moisture, and contracts when it dries. To make matters even more complicated, there are two different types of wood used to make violins, violas, and cellos - Spruce for the top and Maple for the back and sides. These two woods expand and contract at different rates, so the best advice is to try to avoid extremes in temperature and humidity

Monday, May 22, 2023

These Are A Few Of Our Favorite Strings- Part IV, Cello

By Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins
with Kevin Berdine And Andrea Wallick

As we have shared in a previous blog post, "These Are A Few Of Our Favorite Strings-Part III, Cello" Larsen strings continue to be a favorite amongst students, teachers, and cellists in our shop. 

Larsen's standard strings continue to be the strongest contender for most cellos and cellists, but our shop cellists have enjoyed each new string produced by Larsen. When Larsen introduced the Magnacore strings, we were all quite excited to try them out. They did not disappoint! We absolutely loved the warmth that Magnacores produced while maintaining the same playability and projection we have come to expect from Larsen. 

Sunday, May 7, 2023

What's THE BEST Instrument Sound?

By Andrea Wallick, cellist and Andy Fein, violin maker at Fein Violins (

Have you ever heard an instrument's sound described with physical adjectives such as "dark", "bright", "rough", or "thin"? Sound doesn't produce light, and it's not a physical object, so what do these words actually mean? And more importantly, what kind of words describe a good instrument's sound? 

Rachel Barton Pine discusses the differences between Stradivaris and Guaneri del Gesus

These terms do not come out of nowhere. There are actually subtle differences in the sound composition that make terms like these universal! If two people play different violins with different bows at different volumes, obviously they will sound different. But what if the same person plays two violins with the same bow at the same volume with the same articulation? Will they still sound different? Yes, because of the instrument's timbre.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Wolf Tones- Why is my cello howling?

By Kevin Berdine, cellist, and Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins

Shop-Dog Zev and Andy discuss wolf tones. Did you know Zev is Hebrew for Wolf? Well, it is.

Have you ever heard your cello howl? For those of you who haven't heard it, this is a weird question, right? But for those who have experienced this phenomenon, you know exactly what we're talking about. A wolf tone is so-named because it sounds a bit like a wolf howling. Wolf note or wolf tone Is there a difference? No! It's two different names for the same phenomenon.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

The Everchanging Cello

By Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins
and Kevin Berdine

The beloved cello that we know today as a relatively standardized instrument was not always so. Cellos can be traced back to Amati (1581-1632), Gaspar da Salo (1549-1609), and Paolo Maggini (1581-1632). Although still quite recognizable to a modern eye and ear, these proto-cellos were quite different in a number of ways; string material and tuning, neck length and angle, body dimensions, bridge dimensions, arching, bass-bar placement and dimensions, bow design, soundpost dimensions, and even the way in which players held the instrument and bow. For a brief primer, check out Emily Davidson's emilyplayscello Instagram reel.  

The driving forces that propelled design changes, not surprisingly, were playability and sound projection. Simultaneously, while composers were demanding more virtuosity from cellists, performing venues were becoming larger as they shifted from churches to courts to concert halls. This compelled instrument makers to design instruments that allowed for greater agility and a bigger, more-projecting sound.

To achieve a more powerful sound, the high-arched cellos of Amati and early-Stradivari turned into the lower-arched Stradivari "Forma B" inspired instruments that we still play today. In 1710, during Stradivari's golden period,  he introduced the first Forma B, the "Gore-Booth" cello to the world. Dimensions: Length of the Back 75.6cm; Widest Width of the Upper Bout 34.2cm; Widest Width of the Lower Bout 43.8cm; Narrowest Width of the Middle Bout 22.9cm. 

1710 Stradivari "Gore-Booth" Cello 

Today there are roughly 20 "Forma B" cellos in existence. In Stradivari's late-period, he continued on his quest to improve playability by making cellos narrower still. 

As one can imagine, a lower arch necessitated many other adjustments. Externally, while arching was being lowered neck angles were being increased. This combination required taller bridges to be designed to fit the increased string height. To further add pressure to the top and increase sound-projection of the instrument, metal strings were also added to the mix. In addition to adding tension to the strings by making the bridge taller and switching to metal strings, we also see the tuning raised about whole step. These factors led to important changes that most players do not see. Internally, the soundpost dimensions changed as arching decreased. And the bass bar positioning and dimensions changed to add structural support. Additionally, to add more structural stability, Stradivari made these cellos with more substantial wood thicknesses.

Many great cellos that were made in the Baroque era have since been altered to match modern sensibilities. To achieve a more playable instrument, the overall size was reduced, the neck angle increased, and endpins were added. Additionally, composers began to write music that required more range. Thus neck lengths, too, were increased. Each of the changes allowed a player to navigate around the instrument with greater freedom. Check out this pic, from Matthew Zeller's "Deconstructing the Andrea Amati 'King' Cello," to see how the midsection was removed along the center seam, and the bouts were reduced to cut down the Amati King Cello to modern dimensions. 

For those measuring at home, here is a list of the original dimensions versus cut-down dimensions: Length of the Back 78.2cm cut to 75.5cm; Widest Width of the Upper Bout 39.1cm cut to 34.3xm; Widest Width of the Lower Bout 48.9cm cut to 44.2cm; and Narrowest Width of the Middle Bout 27.7cm cut to 23.6cm. 

While the instrument itself was undergoing dramatic transformations, so too, was the way in which players held the bow. One will see examples of cellists holding the bow underhand (some bassists still play with "German" bows), overhand above frog (modern hold), and overhand higher up the stick.

Although cellos have remained quite standardized since Stradivari's "Forma B," there continue to be many experiments; carbon fiber instruments and bows, endpin material and angle, tuning pegs material and mechanics, string composition, varnish formulas, interior grounds, artificial aging treatments of wood, neck angles, tailpiece materials and shape, and many other interesting tweaks. What will come next? Nobody knows for sure, but it will surely be playability and sound projection that drive future experiments. 

Although playability and sound projection propel most changes, one modern transformation, in honor of comfort and ease, that we have embraced whole-heartedly at Fein Violins, is mechanical pegs. The majority of our instruments leave the shop with these installed. Our clients have absolutely loved the Wittner Finetune Geared Pegs. They make tuning so much easier! I suppose we could say comfort and ease relate to playability-if it hurts to tune, one does not play their instrument! Traditionalists, too, have appreciated the fact that these pegs still look like ebony friction-fitted pegs. You really have to try them out to see just how easy they are to use.  

Are you a cellist or interested in becoming one? Take a look at our Fine Cellos modeled after Stradivari's instruments.

Vanscheeuwijck, Marc (1996) "The Baroque Cello and Its Performance," Performance Practice Review: Vol. 9: No. 1, Article 7. DOI: 10.5642/perfpr.199609.01.07
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